Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Snowman celebrates 20th anniversary with star-studded gala

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Snowman being performed at Sadler’s Wells’ West End venue The Peacock theatre, we invited a number of celebrity guests to a special gala performance of the production.

The red-carpet event welcomed VIP guests to a pre-show reception with hands-on craft activities for their children, drinks in the interval and even the chance to meet the Snowman himself. Guests included musician, model and TV Presenter Myleene Klass, actor, singer and presenter Denise Van Outen, comedian Lee Mack, singers Kimberly Wyatt and Leah Wood, radio presenter Edith Bowman, television presenters Esther Rantzen and Gok Wan, actor and model Camilla Ruth

erford, barrister Cherie Blair, tattoo artist Sketch and actors Natascha McElhone, Mathew Horne, Natalie Cassidy, Anna Wilson-Jones and Georgia May Foote.

Bowman wrote on Twitter: “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Xmas. Love the #snowman17 #snowmanshowturns20 @sadlers_wells“, while Van Outen  posted: ‘We loved it! officialthesnowman @sadlers_wells what a fabulous snow ….. I mean show”.

We were delighted that The Snowman’s 20th anniversary stage production received such a warm welcome and look forward to many more fans and families enjoying the show during its run.

The Snowman is at The Peacock theatre until 31st December. You can book tickets here. How well do you know the story and production? Check our 20 facts about The Snowman here.

 Images: Piers Allardyce

20 facts about The Snowman

The heart-warming tale of a young boy’s adventure with his magical snowman friend has returned to The Peacock stage to delight audiences for the 20th consecutive year this festive season.

To celebrate this special anniversary, we’re sharing 20 facts about this enchanting story and its stage and TV adaptations. How many did you know?

  1. The Snowman opened at The Peacock theatre in 1997, meaning it is the longest running Christmas theatre show ever made!
  2. The original Snowman story, written by Raymond Briggs and published in 1978, doesn’t mention Christmas at all. The scene where the young boy and the snowman visit Father Christmas was added to the television adaption, but never appeared in the original book.
  3. The author Raymond Briggs admitted that there is more to this magical festive tale than meets the eye. The story was actually meant to introduce children to the concept of mortality. He said to the Radio Times: “I create what seems natural and inevitable. The snowman melts, my parents died, animals die, flowers die. Everything does. There’s nothing particularly gloomy about it. It’s a fact of life.”
  4. There are a number of different introductions to the television adaption. One of these features legendary British popstar David Bowie starring as the young boy many years later, wearing the scarf given to him by his snowman friend.
  5. There are 60 costumes in The Snowman stage production, all of which are handmade by the costume department at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
  6. The show employs 265 individual props, ranging from lumps of coal for the snowmen’s noses to toy soldiers, a sleigh and even a motorcycle with a sidecar!

  1. Far from the snowy surroundings the story is set in, Howard Blake, the composer of the iconic song Walking In The Air, said that the idea for the song actually came to him whilst he was walking along a beach in Cornwall.
  2. Staying with the beach theme, The Snowman is said to be set in Sussex, near Brighton. We know this because, in the television adaption, the snowman and the young boy fly over Brighton pier and Brighton Pavillion.
  3. Director of the stage production Bill Alexander said in a Guardian interview that he originally had dancer Carlos Acosta in mind for the role of Jack Frost!

  1. Since its release in 1982, the television adaption of The Snowman has been shown every single year at Christmas time.
  2. The Snowman cast can perform up to three shows per day. Because of the working restrictions, particularly for younger actors, three boys play the part of the Boy, and two men play the part of the Snowman.
  3. There are 42 people working on each performance of The Snowman, including 17 dancers, five musicians and 20 stage crew.
  4. Similarly to the book and the television adaption, The Snowman stage production has no words and the story is told through mime, images and movement.
  5. The pineapple and coconut costumes used in the stage version are very difficult to get into and the performers need to make very fast costume changes. To solve the problem, the crew decided to rig a pulley system last year for the costumes to be lowered from above onto the dancers just before they go on stage.

  1. Many people believe that it was Aled Jones who originally sang Walking In The Air, as he had a top 10 hit with the song in 1985, but the original was actually performed by Peter Auty, a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral.
  2. There were originally two different versions of The Snowman stage production. Director Bill Alexander worked with composer Howard Blake on a version at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, but there was also a ballet version, created by Robert North for his ballet company in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1993. The version we see today incorporates elements of both productions.
  3. Each of the 11 snowman costumes took one week to make. The costumes are created from more than 11 miles of white net!
  4. While watching the television of The Snowman on Christmas Day, the crew working on the stage show have been known to stand up automatically at certain points to do something onstage, forgetting they are at home!
  5. To mark the 30th anniversary of the original film’s release, a sequel to the original film was released in 2012, called The Snowman and The Snowdog.
  6. Last year, the two snowmen made a music video of themselves miming to the classic Christmas song Stay Another Day by East 17. You can watch it here!

The Snowman runs at The Peacock theatre 23 November – 31 December. You can book tickets here.


Images: Tristram Kenton

Pupils explore solar system through dance

Following the successful premiere of his latest work 8 Minutes on our stage in the summer, Sadler’s Wells’ New Wave Associate Alexander Whitley has worked with Islington pupils to engage them creatively with the science curriculum through dance.

Alexander was inspired by solar science research to create 8 Minutes, a full-length piece combining dance, music and film to investigate concepts such as gravity, orbiting and magnetism through movement. Supported by our Learning and Engagement team, his eponymous dance company devised workshops to be delivered alongside the stage production.

In October, the company spent a week at the Gillespie School in Islington, one of Sadler’s Wells’ associate schools, working with a class of year-5 students to explore the similarities between artistic and scientific processes and using each of them to shed light on the other. The aim was to introduce the children to often abstract and complex scientific concepts by illustrating them through the medium of dance.

The participating class worked with two professional dancers from Alexander Whitley Dance Company, as well as a scientist and a choreographer, to explore solar science and specifically the themes of planets, scale, magnets and orbits through choreography. At the end of the week, the students presented their work to the whole school.

In November, the class performed in our Lilian Baylis Studio to an audience including parents, patrons of Sadler’s Wells and our Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding. Alongside the students’ performances, the evening included a speech from Alexander Whitley about the project, a Q&A with Alexander and the students, and the performance of a short excerpt of 8 Minutes.

We were proud to support this project and work closely with Alexander to encourage primary school students within our local community to approach their science curriculum in a creative way, and to emphasise the role of dance in inspiring curiosity, imagination and knowledge in young people.

Images by Stephen Wright

Sadler’s Wells supports air quality campaign

Sadler’s Wells staff encouraged drivers with idling engines outside the theatre to switch them off and reduce pollution today as part of the Vehicle Idling Action campaign. Supported by the Mayor of London and delivered in association with Islington Council, the initiative aims to improve the city’s air quality.

Four volunteers from Sadler’s Wells’ Green Team, the group of staff responsible for driving and monitoring our Sustainability policy and action plan and supporting environmental initiatives, took time away from their desks to speak to drivers outside the theatre, asking them to switch their engines off when not in use and encouraging them to make a ‘no idling’ pledge. They also thanked those drivers who weren’t idling. The volunteers were able to speak to a number of drivers and spread the word about how switching off their engines could lead to better air quality.

As a cultural organisation working locally, nationally and internationally, Sadler’s Wells is committed to reducing the impact of our activities on the environment, as well as to raising awareness of, and promoting debate on, climate change. We were pleased to take part in the campaign and contribute to lower levels of pollution in our local community.

You can read more about Sadler’s Wells sustainability policy here.

Images: Rachel McClure and Elsa Stevens with drivers they spoke to as part of the Vehicle Idling Action campaign. 

National Dance Awards nominations are announced

Nominees have been announced for the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards 2017 and we are delighted that a number of artists and companies we present and support are among them.

Our Associate Artists Akram Khan and Crystal Pite have received nominations in the Best Classical Choreographer category. Akram is recognised for his choreography of Giselle for our Associate Company English National Ballet, a Sadler’s Wells co-production. Crystal has been nominated for two works: Emergence, which we presented as part of a double bill by Scottish Ballet in June, and Flight Pattern, presented at the Royal Opera House in March.

Matthew Bourne and Michael Keegan-Dolan, also Sadler’s Wells Associate Artists, are up for the Best Modern Choreography Award. Matthew has been nominated for The Red Shoes, which had its world premiere at Sadler’s Wells in December 2016, while Michael Keegan-Dolan has been recognised for Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, which we presented in November 2016 and will return to our stage later this month.

We are thrilled to see that Botis Seva has been nominated in the Emerging Artist category. Botis presented a Wild Card evening in our Lilian Baylis Studio in 2015 and also took part in Open Art Surgery and Back To The Lab, Breakin’ Convention’s artistic development programmes. Composer Vincenzo Lamagna is also nominated for the same honour, for his music for Akram Khan’s Giselle.

Dancer Ashley Shaw, of our Resident Company New Adventures, is among the Outstanding Female Performance (modern) nominees for her performance as Vicky Page in The Red Shoes, while Syrian-born, France-based dancer and choreographer Mithkal Alzghair has been nominated for Outstanding Male Performance (modern) for Displacement, which we presented in the Lilian Baylis Studio in July, as part of the Shubbak festival.

In the Outstanding Female Performance (classical) category, nominees include English National Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru for her leading role in Giselle and Scottish Ballet’s Bethany Kingsley-Garner, for her performance in Emergence. The Award for Outstanding Male Performance (classical) sees English National Ballet’s James Streeter nominated for his role as Albrecht in Giselle, Scottish Ballet’s Christopher Harrison for his performance in MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps), presented here in summer alongside Emergence, and Israel Galván  for his performance in FLA.CO.MEN, which he performed at Sadler’s Wells’ Flamenco Festival in February 2017Eva Yerbabuena, who also performed her show Apariencias at the Flamenco Festival, is nominated for the Grishko Award for Best Female Dancer and the Outstanding Female Performance (classical) award.

Birmingham-based Rosie Kay Dance Company, whose sold-out run of 5 SOLDIERS: The Body is The Frontline we presented at Yeomanry House in September, is up for Best Independent Company.

The full nominations’ list is available here. Winners will be announced on 19 February 2018, when two other honours will be bestowed: the De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement and the One Dance UK Industry Award.

Many congratulations to all on their well-deserved nominations and best of luck!

Image: Laurent Liotardo 

Miriam Levy on life in National Youth Dance Company

Miriam Levy, a current dancer in National Youth Dance Company (NYDC), reflects on her first residency with the company, which took place in October at DanceEast, Ipswich. The cohort worked with NYDC Associate Artist Neil Fleming Brown to bond as a company and to learn the the unique movement style of the company’s latest Guest Artistic Director Sharon Eyal, who they will begin rehearsals with in December. 

My first residency with NYDC was a truly amazing experience and one I think will stick with me for a very long time. Some of my friends from the CAT scheme (Centre for Advanced Training Programme) were joining NYDC with me and before the residency they asked me if I was nervous to which I surprised myself by realising that I wasn’t. Getting into NYDC had been a big goal of mine so once I achieved it I was really excited to start and ready to start a totally new creative process.

Once I arrived, we were really well taken care of and our parents were introduced to NYDC by the staff and returning dancers, who gave us some last minute advice. After this we travelled to Dance East where we went straight from the coach to the studio. We then started by improvising as a whole group to warm up, which was one of the highlights of the residency for me. We were encouraged to watch each other for inspiration as we were moving and I found the other 40 dancers completely inspiring. In that moment and over the course of the residency I would find myself wanting to watch the other dancers more and more as everyone was so talented in different ways. The individuality of the other company members shone through even as we were trying to master Sharon’s very specific style.

Trying to understand how her choreographic style would feel on my body was one of the biggest challenges of the residency for me, as watching videos of her moving reminded me just how different her style is to what I usually encounter in my training. We used to these videos as the start of creative tasks as individuals and in pairs and you could definitely see the progression of the material we made over the three days. Starting to feel like I’m getting to grips with her style made me even more excited for the December residency, where Sharon is coming to start the creation process officially. This residency felt like a taster of the creation process and definitely left me excited for more.

Something that surprised me about NYDC was the intensity of the schedule, and the level of professionalism expected of you as an NYDC member was a new experience for me. NYDC is designed to give you a taste of life in a professional company and one of the key parts of the experience is being in the studio all day every day whilst on residency. This was only a short residency (meaning we only had one complete day in the studio) but the sessions were very physically demanding and it was sometimes hard to maintain your creativity at the end of the long days. Despite this, the atmosphere in the studio was amazingly positive, everyone was completely committed to the tasks we were given and to dancing as best as we could. One of the amazing things about NYDC is that it brings together people who are just as passionate about dance as each other from all around the country. I feel really grateful to have met people from the other side of the country, who I would never have had the opportunity to dance with otherwise. By the second day my roommate and I were having a slightly surreal conversation where we couldn’t believe that we’d only met the day before because we already felt like we knew each other so well!

The 40 dancers on the coach journey back had a very different dynamic to the 40 dancers who met each other at Sadler’s Wells. Everyone’s nerves had completely evaporated and we were chatting and literally singing together the entire journey home. I think we all felt the same sense of satisfaction of the connection we had made over the three days, as well as the dancing we achieved together. I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity, and cannot wait for the next residency.

The Movement – Kyle Abraham Social Mover Review

Evelyn Francourt is one of four London-based Social Movers for The Movement  – an Arts Council funded partnership among three of the country’s leading dance venues; Sadler’s Wells, Birmingham Hippodrome and The Lowry, which aims to promote dance across the UK.

Here Evelyn tells us about her experience of attending Pavement, the debut performance of Kyle Abraham’s company Abraham.In.Motion on the Sadler’s Wells stage. 

The stage is brightly lit and starkly adorned with a metal fence and a lone basketball hoop.

The audience is reminded to switch off their phones and the usual pre theatre mantra at the start of a performance commences. However, as the lights have not dimmed there’s no visual cue that the performance is starting. In fact, the audience are still talking and bustling about when the first dancer enters the stage.

The male dancer walks with attitude. To say he saunters or walks with ‘swag’ underplays the first of many gestural and pedestrian motions and motifs that authentically captures a people and a mood. Abraham’s choreographic style weaves colloquialisms seamlessly into ballet, contemporary and street dance to create a multi layered and nuanced dance vocabulary.

The opening duet begins as a tentative greeting, moving into a body-locking sequence that becomes a friendly exchange. The movement changes into a beautifully fluid ballet and undulating contemporary dance hybrid accompanied by a bluesy score. It halts jarringly as one male dancer is apprehended and restrained by the other. Here, Abraham introduces another recurring motif; the male lying face down, hands behind his back as though handcuffed  – profoundly affecting, and instantly recognisable.

Pavement is inspired by the 1991 award winning film, Boyz N The Hood however it also feels personal. At the after-show talk Abraham spoke of how he drew from experiences attending school in Pittsburgh, culturally renowned for the rich Jazz heritage of the 1950’s however over the decades going into decline. Themes of community, identity, racial inequality and injustice are explored in Pavement.

The movement vocabulary is exceptional, yes the dancers are interdisciplinary, mastering Ballet, Contemporary and Street dance style, however it is the motifs and gestures that intelligently add context and authenticity. The quality of dance is exceptional; natural and human, also technical and graceful.

Through the eclectic score Abraham’s adds even more layering to this work. Classic blues, opera, classical music with dialogue from the film, Boyz N The Hood creates a poignant collage.

The close of Pavement is a lament; the stage lights are brightly lit again and the audience is shown an uncomfortably long, unflinchingly stark tableau of lifeless bodies piled on top of one another hands restrained.

I have always marveled at art’s ability to make one think as well as entertain. Abraham shines a light on society with exquisite dance mastery.

Image credit: Carrie Schneider 

Sadler’s Wells’ Voices: HR Coordinator Braham Lyons

Sadler’s Wells offers a number of apprenticeships, giving young people the opportunity to access practical training and develop crucial knowledge and skills across different areas of the creative industries. Braham Lyons is a member of our Human Resources team, who joined Sadler’s Wells in October 2014 as an Administrative Apprentice, moving up the ranks to HR Assistant before becoming HR Coordinator in June 2016. We spoke to Braham about what he learned from his apprenticeship, further study and his advice for future Sadler’s Wells apprentices.

What is your background?

I left school and started an English Literature degree at university, but within the first year I knew it wasn’t right for me and I ended up withdrawing from the course entirely. I’ve always loved theatre and the arts so knew I wanted to work in some way in the industry, but I had no idea what to do to get in!

I spent a few years working as a freelance writer, where I undertook a theatre’s writers programme, staged my own play at a fringe theatre, and had a children’s play published but I was still struggling to find regular work and it was really stressful trying to live and work that way, I really needed to find an option for a career rather than odd jobs!

You started out at Sadler’s Wells doing an apprenticeship in HR. How did you find out about this and why did you want to apply for it?

I found the opportunity on Arts Jobs, at the time I was looking for a way to get in to an arts organisation and gain some solid experience to build on, but I had very little relevant experience, so the apprenticeship looked the perfect way to build my experience while learning about the industry. To be honest, I really didn’t know that arts administration or HR roles existed within the arts industry, so it was refreshing to find an entry level opportunity that was open to me and that I had a real chance of getting.

What was your experience of the apprenticeship, for instance the kind of day-to-day tasks and projects you worked on?

The great thing about being an apprentice here was that I was treated exactly as any other member of permanent staff, I was given responsibility and control over my own workload which is something I wasn’t expecting. My main focus was recruitment so assisting with everything from job creation through to coordinating interviews, and job offers which is great because you get to deliver good news, and so many people are genuinely excited to come and work at Sadler’s Wells. I also worked across the administrative functions, so helping staff with benefits, and keeping track of annual leave. As our department is quite small, I got a lot of exposure to wider HR issues and projects as well, so I had a fantastic oversight of HR over the course of the year. All of the academic work was linked into the day to day work I was doing as well, so it felt like I got to apply my learning on a continuous basis.

How do you think that this apprenticeship was helpful in helping you pursue your career?

I really wouldn’t have even known that this was a viable career for me without completing the apprenticeship. It gave me a year of solid work experience, and confidence with a qualification to back it up. I was lucky in that a role within the department became available for me to apply for, but if it hadn’t, I felt that I would have been in a strong position to apply for entry level HR roles in other organisations. With the range of experience I built up, it transformed my confidence and how I felt about my employability and career options.

You went from being an Administrative Apprentice and you’re now the HR Coordinator. What would you say you particularly enjoy about your job and working in HR?

In HR you’re always looking at how things can be improved, and I have a lot of freedom in pursuing projects and initiatives that will help Sadler’s Wells as a whole, it’s great to have that freedom and also the confidence from my Head of Department to work in that way.

With recruitment, I also get to represent Sadler’s Wells which is something I’m really proud of, and the interactions I have with people are often their first impression of the organisation so it’s great when I can help them join in a really positive way.

What have you learnt so far in your time here?

I gained a lot of confidence in myself and my ability, but I have also learned that you can’t do everything by yourself. You need to use other people’s expertise and skills, and really work together to perform at your best.

Another key thing is to not assume and to go for opportunities that intrigue you. Before doing my apprenticeship I thought studying wasn’t for me, but now after completing my apprenticeship and working within HR, I’ve gone back to university as a part time student to obtain a CIPD qualification and I’ve absolutely loved it (couldn’t be more different to the abandoned English degree!), I can’t wait to be qualified, which is something I never thought would happen!

What advice would you give to other young people doing an apprenticeship at Sadler’s Wells?

You will get out whatever you put into your time here, so if you’re interested in something, speak up and get involved with as many different areas as you can. You need to get your work done, but there are so many people with a fantastic range of experiences at Sadler’s Wells that can give you an insight into their career, and different options, so it’s really worth buying them a coffee and picking their brains!

Dancer and choreographer Mavin Khoo discusses Darbar Festival

For the first time ever this November, Sadler’s Wells will be hosting Darbar Festival, a celebration of Indian classical dance. Building on its success since launching over ten years ago, Darbar and Sadler’s Wells have joined forces to offer an unprecedented classical dance programme specifically curated by Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Akram Khan. One of the artists performing is Mavin Khoo, an internationally renowned Bharatanatyam dancer, who is also Artistic Director of ŻfinMalta Dance Ensemble and rehearsal director for the Akram Khan company. In Indian Adventures of Sitar and Dance, he will present a newly devised solo as part of an ongoing collaboration with vocalist OS Arun. We spoke to him about his relationship with the Bharatanatyam dance form and what he is particularly looking forward to seeing at the festival.

Can you tell us a little bit about what to expect from your solo piece at Darbar Festival?

My solo is essentially a one act journey that is developed out of 2 lines from a traditional music composition called the Varnam. Essentially by using the lines that say…’My lord, it is only you that I have total belief and conviction in, please do not be indifferent to me now’, a whole world is developed whereby the heroine experiences romantic love and longing, to sensuous erotic consummation, to loss and despair, death and finally spiritual transcendence. All in 45 minutes! The things that audiences can look for is my exploration into dancing from a female protagonist’s voice (something that has been an area of development since I made my solo debut at the age of 16). The second thing is the collaborative relationship with OS Arun, the ‘live’ sense which comes from a strong improvisational framework within the work. The marriage of dance that is stimulated by musical ‘in the moment’ choices and vice versa.

This piece is part of an ongoing collaboration between vocalist OS Arun and yourself – what has it been like to work together?

The relationship over the last 10 years has been deep, eye opening, stimulating, challenging. Arun took me into a whole new realm of musicality and depth. The first time we worked together, it was an immediate sense of challenge and he pushed me to challenge him and ensure that musically, I would equal him through dance. There is no element that is stronger than the other: they have to work side by side. He also further gave me the confidence to take risks in performance: that the ‘live’ element is truly live with the choices I would make. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but that’s the point.

How did you come to study and master Bharatanatyam?

I started training in Malaysia as a young 5 year old. By the time I was 10, I was very fortunate to be chosen to be a disciple of the legendary dance Guru of Bharatanatyam, Padma Shri Adyar K. Lakshman. I was 16 when I was presented in my full length solo debut and literally I was so blessed that my career immediately took off. The very next year, I was invited to inaugurate the renowned Music and Dance Festival at Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai which is I guess the Royal Opera House of Chennai when it comes to classical music and dance. Everything happened rapidly from there. I am far from being a master, but I live my life steeped into the form and keep going deeper and deeper to find more freedom.

You’re fluent in so many different dance styles, but what do you think is particularly special about Bharatanatyam and classical Indian dance as a whole? 

I think what is really particular about Bharatanatyam when it is done well, is first and foremost the notion of interpretation of text with a strong musical backbone- what we refer to as Abhinaya. When this is done well, it is truly a transcendental experience. Yes, there are other elements like its pure dance technique, rhythm, lines, foot work. But, for me, its uniqueness and artistry and the element that can’t just be learned and produced without a deep sense of surrender is this. I would say that this is the case of Indian classical dance as a whole.

You’re also going to be doing a live coaching session with BBC Young Dancer finalist Lakshmi Ranjan. What do you hope audiences will be able to take away from watching the relationship between student and teacher?

It’s very specific, what I will be doing with Lakshmi. When the idea of a session was suggested, I felt it was really important to share the depth with which we work and should work. The idea of interrogating a line to find innumerable possibilities of interpretation is something that is special of all classical interpretive roles. The same can be said when one is coaching Giselle or Swan Lake. What do we do when we revisit these classics? What more is there to search? These are some of the things I wish to share with Lakshmi and the audience.

Sadler’s Wells is staging Darbar Festival for the first time. Are you excited about any other performers or shows at the festival?

Extremely excited! Mythili is one of the most exceptional dancers of her generation, dearly loved and admired in Chennai and all around the world. Aditi Mangaldas is a legend and Dheerendra, I have heard so many fantastic things about him so I can’t wait to see him. I am of course so happy that Akram will be dancing – what he gives in his dance today is something beyond form. I am also happy to see that Seeta Patel has been given such a good opportunity, as this is a good benchmark for other British-based young South Asian artists to work towards.

Darbar Festival ran at Sadler’s Wells on 9-12 November.

In Conversation with Nilda Guerra and Rodney Barreto from Vamos Cuba!

Set in the crazy chaos of Havana Airport, Vamos Cuba! is a spectacular celebration of Cuban dance and music, currently playing at The Peacock theatre. Choreographed by Nilda Guerra, who was also the creator of the smash-hit Havana Rakatan, the show also features a live band led by acclaimed Cuban musician Rodney Barreto and a cast of Cuba’s most talented dancers and musicians. We caught up with Nilda and Rodney to talk about the show’s strong musical influences and how Vamos Cuba! perfectly expresses the Cuban spirit of optimism.

How did the idea of Vamos Cuba! come about and what was the inspiration behind it?

Nilda Guerra: We wanted to explore the idea of being in the airport, and how that is quite a controversial thing for Cuba. It’s a struggle for Cubans, because we cannot leave the country, so we wanted to create something for ourselves. Our cast are just waiting in the airport, so that they can communicate and tell stories with each other.

We have been working on this project a long time and we wanted to bring it to England, as a contemporary production with Cuban music from the 1950s until now, and working with Cuban artists and English producers. We all have an idea of Cuba, that it’s all about mambo and cha-cha-cha, but we felt that we really needed to show more than just the commercial part.

The show has undergone a little bit of a transformation since you last performed it at Sadler’s Wells, can you tell us about what has changed and what audiences can expect?

Rodney Barreto: We have new songs in the show! This isn’t just traditional music, we also included different Cuban genres, like straight ahead jazz. The audience can also hear timba and the evolution of salsa.

Can you tell us a little bit about the casting for the show?

NG: I really am a lucky woman with this cast! Right now we have nine of the best Cuban musicians in the band. For instance Rodney, who has worked with famous Cuban musicians such as the pianist Chucho Valdés. We didn’t know we were going to have such a beautiful cast! There are 14 dancers, and interestingly 12 of these are the principal dancers, when normally you only have four.

Dance seems to be hugely significant to Cuban culture. How do you represent this and other elements of your culture in the show?   

NG: The dancing and the music has a connection. Music and dancing is ingrained in family heritage, in Cuban life. In Cuba dancing motivates the musicians to create a different type of style, a rich style. We have influences from Spain, Africa, and America. That’s why I always try and bring the musicians and dancers together because I cannot see the dancers dancing with just recorded music, that’s really safe for the producer but really bad for the show, because it doesn’t have a life. It is the connection with the dancers and the music that is the most important element to the show.

RB: Within the show we also wanted to include something about the folklore and religious element of Cuban culture. It’s a big part of many people’s lives there, being closely connected to religion and praying. There’s a special vocal part in the show which really focuses on that.

We feel that we have all the Cuban cultural styles in the show, which is shown in the change in music, like the cha-cha, blues, reggae, mambo, timba, it’s all included.

What is your favourite thing about this new production?

NG: I think for me the music plays an important part. The way it moves through the audience and the sensation of it is probably my favourite element of the show. It’s a history show so it’s complicated for the dancers to express that drama, but I think the music helps and really gives you all the energy and emphasises the emotion of the show.

How would you sum up the show in three words? 

NG: I would say maybe ‘Cuba for now’.

RB: Yeah, I would maybe say ‘The Cuban Reality’. This is the way things happen in Cuba, maybe not for everybody. Cubans often make the best of the situation. Even if, for example, we found out there was a flight delay, maybe we’d be a little upset, but 5 minutes later we say ‘whatever’ and we find something to do, deal with the situation, maybe make some friends. That’s the Cuban lifestyle that we wanted to show our audience.

NG: The Cuban way of doing things, even if we dream about travel and leaving the country, is just to laugh and have fun!

RB: It is the meaning of the show. We cannot show every problem that we have, but we do want to portray the optimism that Cubans have. If we have a problem, we have to laugh. We share with people no matter what.

Vamos Cuba! plays at The Peacock theatre until 11th November. Book tickets here.